The Crieff Tryst

From Grimnish to Lochmaddy
Dunvegan to Glenelg
We’ll rope the kye together
When we reach the river’s swell
We’ll keep a weary virgil
As we rest them for the night
And we’ll follow on the droving road
To meet the Falkirk Tryst

Tryst ( pronounced “ Tr – eye –st “ as per poem above ) is an old Scots word originating in Banffshire and described local cattle markets . Modern English has the word “ tryst “ - a lovers’ meeting a la Mills and Boon - and it is pronounced “ trist “ ! I am conscious that many people in Crieff use the latter and to be honest it doesn’t really matter as the original concept survives !

The Tryst

The Earl ( of Perth ) was the "patron " who held court for the purpose of regulating disputes and keeping law and order . Certain of his feuars were bound by their charters to provide guards for policing the market .The Statistical Account for the Parish of Monzie recounts that when the Tryst was at its height the inhabitants of the Parish went in fear of their lives from the Highland drovers who broke into their houses , forcibly billeting themselves and often carried away part of their household goods . The NSA for Crieff dated 1794 stated that " the old people here sometimes speak with regret of the glorious scene displayed to view when 30,000 black cattle in different droves over spread the whole adjacent country for several miles around the town .

The Earl of Perth was entitled to dues amounting to 2d per beast .The right of collecting was "let " by him for six hundred pounds Scots or fifty pounds sterling. Much of the trade was done by means of bills and during the second quarter of the century Crieff became one of the main financial centres of Scotland . Considerable sums of money also changed hands in gold . Minute Book of the Royal Bank of Scotland shows that tellers were sent that year from Edinburgh to Crieff with three thousand pounds in notes to put into circulation in return for cash. The 1745 uprising seemed to have little effect. There was an increase in the number of English dealers which resulted in pressure to find a suitable market nearer to the south .This led to the eventual eclipse of Crieff and the rise of Falkirk . The Crieff market declined between 1760 and 1770 .Even by 1770 the market dues were still being levied at Crieff . Pennant writing in 1772 estimated the number of cattle sold in Crieff to be 24,000 . Haldane' s book , " The Drove Roads of Scotland "quotes an interesting extract from the "Forfeited Estates Papers , Perth ". "In October 1770 a petition was signed by 27 dealers in black cattle from the North of Scotland . This was presented to the Commissioners for the annexed Estates . It complained that "customs " were still levied at the Michaelmas market despite the fact that Crieff was only a passing place .They had no opportunity to sell their cattle their as the market stance had been fully enclosed and " that if custom dues at Crieff were continued they would take some proper method for remedy “.

According to Gisbourne writing in the 19th century , the drovers were " mounted on small shaggy spirited ponies " and when at the trading stage , " a good deal of wriggling takes place and when the parties come to an agreement the purchaser clasps a penny of arles in to the hands of the stock holder observing , at the same time , " its a bargain ! " Although the author wrote these words pertaining to the Falkirk ( actually Larbert ) Tryst, they , I am sure quite apposite to the dealings at Crieff some decades earlier .
After the sale , the beasts are duly marked - " tar dishes are then got and the purchasers mark is put upon the cattle "

Crieff and The Tryst

What was the town like at the height of the annual Michaelmas Tryst ? I am a great admirer of Scottish artist Sir David Wilkie . Wilkie painted in 1804 ,aged 19 , a remarkable picture entitled “ Pitlessie Fair “ It happened to be his birth place in that most lovely part of the “Kingdom” . It , I am sure , would be very similar to a Crieff a few decades earlier . The Tryst was not just a cattle market but a holiday for townspeople of all ages . Add the verbal description and we have it ! " sixty to seventy tents selling spirits and provisions many kindle fires at the ends of the tents over which cooking is briskly carried on . Broth is made in considerable quantities and meets a ready sale . As most of the purchasers are paid in these tents , they are constantly filled and surrounded by a mixed multitude of cattle dealers , fishers , drovers , auctioneers , pedlars , jugglers , gamblers , itinerant fruit merchants , ballad singers and beggars . What an indescribable clamour prevails in most of these partly coloured abodes ". Apart from the above we have little but circumstantial evidence to go by but that in itself is informative . Woods Town Plan of 1822 ( digital version which you can blow up by clicking : ) shows the traditional centre of the town – The Cross with the roads emanating off . My old friend the late John Robertson , builder of the Parish , discovered a drover’s sporran in a house he was renovating on Hill Street aka Hill Wynd . The house had been a drovers’ howff or pub ! The large stone to the rear of Rockearn in Perth Road was reputed top have been where the auctioneer stood to get the bids. Fascinating but improbable! We know that the beasts were sold y negotiation ( see above ) . With some 30 000 beasts in and around the town it is certain that there were more than one place where the cattle were actually sold . There were numerous “ free grazing “ areas known as “ pecks “ including the Market Park , Strathearn Terrace and possibly Callum’s Hill . The epicentre of the trade was in probability the old Market Park now the site of Morrison’s Academy . Farmer Bob Simpson once told me Duchlage was also an area where sales were made .

My Blogs seem to bemoan the fact that we as a town ( Crieff ) and an area (Strathearn) singularly fail to exploit our heritage resources to the betterment of us all . In the case of Tryst we have a modern celebration in the Drovers Tryst Walking Festival held in 2012 from the 6th to 12th of October . Check it out on


  1. Brilliant writing Colin and thanks as always for your interesting and informative research on The Drover's Tryst. I agree with you that word needs to get out about the town and surrounding areas. There is so much to see and do and so much interesting history to learn. As society moves ever forward in modern times I appreciate learning of my own heritage through your writings.


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